Most of the learning my children have acquired over the years has come
from their own self-initiated, independent reading. But what do you do
while you're waiting for that magic moment of independence to arrive?

You plot.

Set up an environment that invites inquiry and discovery — even if a
child can't read the fine print. I think the Montessori model comes
closest to what I imagine, but her theory incorporates neatly organized
stations for exploration strategically located about the room. It's at the
"neatly organized" level that my model falls apart. I'm more of
a "randomly scattered" kind of mom.

"Yes, that science microscope you just tripped over in the center of
the living room could very well have been intentionally placed there for
your discovery, but I doubt it."

Anyway, do fill up the environment wherever possible with interesting
bits and pieces for discovery: National Geographic maps taped to
the walls; aquariums, terrariums, cocoons; seedbeds for the spring garden;
postcard art prints; lots of music; lots of paints; clay; beads and
buttons for counting and sorting; puppets; a makeshift theater from a
refrigerator box found in an alley way, etc. All these were part of the
daily environment my children explored freely when young.

The Purpose of Structured Learning
The first goal of structured learning should be to teach a child to read.
But the purpose of reading should not be now we can do real school and
load the kid up with lots of seatwork. No, the purpose of reading should
be to open up further worlds of self-initiated inquiry. Knowing that's the
rewards of learning to read should then motivate the child to learn to
read. If I saw a stack of workbooks at the end of the road, I'd sure
resist my phonics drills. But if I saw Huckleberry Finn, Caddie
and Little Women awaiting me, I'd give it all I had.

But what about the child who has difficulty reading early or even on time?

It's even more important for this child to have a content-rich environment
to explore. In addition to all the things listed above, here are some of
the means I used to help my kids acquire that broad-base of background
information they needed as a foundation for later, more structured

Audiotapes can be a great place to start. Most children who read
late are auditory learners. Even when they do become readers, they will
still find it easiest to assimilate information by hearing. All of my kids
have mastered information beyond their reading level by listening to
audiobooks. And for late readers, this can be the main vehicle for keeping
their knowledge base growing and concurrent with their peers'. My daughter
Kristen still prefers audiobooks at age twelve. And she just finished a
Jane Austen novel, something I would never expect her to tackle in book
form, but one she had no difficulty with in an audio format. It surprises
me the vocabulary that she has been able to acquire. It is way beyond
grade level, even while reading is still an area for growth.

Music is also often an area of strength for the late reader. I used
a lot of music tapes with my kids. Bible verses set to music, math facts
set to music, the names of the states, etc. I saw all of these resources a
means for keeping that knowledge base growing while waiting for the
independent reading skills to kick in. Audiomemory and Wee Sing
tapes were two of our favorite resources.

Field Trips are even more critical for the late reader. Make these
most beneficial by dialoguing with your child during the trip. Ask
questions. These will promote critical thinking and composing a response.
Kids who have developed their abilities to articulate their thoughts later
become fluent writers.
Frame your questions with "how" and "why." These are
the ones that lead kids to ponder what is going on behind the scenes.

Educational videos, finally, have a role to play in our homeschool
programs. There are some terrific ones available at most libraries. We
enjoyed a series last year produced by Nova on the Mysteries of
the Ancient World.
In these, archaeologists and engineers attempt to
recreate the great architectural feats of antiquity using possible
original methods. Reading a book on this subject would have been far more
difficult to grasp. Watching the projects take shape with the laws of
physics in play superimposed on the screen made very complex ideas quite
clear for us. There was a lot of application then to what Kristen and
Kayte were both reading about in their science and in their history books
at the time.

It is very common for us to use videos to supplement reading in complex
subject even now on the high school level.

Have a blessed Christmas,